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Plant capacity driving city water debate

 

ELIZABETH HEFFNER

Staff Writer

 

Water. It is a vital resource that society often takes for granted. It is embedded into the daily rituals of cleaning, cooking, recreational activities and energy production. It is essential for one to exist. But where do the people of Lincoln County and Lincolnton get their water? And at what cost?

Since 1959, the city of Lincolnton’s water treatment plant has drawn its water from the South Fork River. Prior to that, the plant was located near the city park on North Aspen St.

“The move was due to the fact that they needed a better source of raw water, and they needed to expand the plant,” said Public Works and Utilities Director Steve Peeler.

According to Peeler, the plant near the city park was unable to accommodate future expansions. The new plant was designed to produce three million gallons of water per day, three times as much as its predecessor.

While Peeler is not clear on the exact date, he does know the second expansion occurred in the late 1970s, enlarging to a six-million gallon capacity.

The plant was nearing capacity once again during the late 1990s, according to City Manager Jeff Emory.

“We were putting water in those clear wells Friday night through Sunday, filling them up,” said Peeler. “And then Monday through Friday we were pumping as much as seven million gallons a day to town. So what we were doing is on the weekends, we were filling all of our storage capacity, and during the week, we were producing at peak capacity at the plant and drawing off stored capacity to meet the demand.”

Even then, industry’s need for water was still not sated.

“Our industries were screaming for even more water,” said Peeler. “And at that time, they were saying ‘either we will get more water or we’ll go somewhere else.’ It was the heyday of the textile industry in this area.”

The rise in industrial water usage prompted the concern from the state.

“The state of North Carolina was putting pressure on the city to do something,” said Emory. “So after looking at a lot of different options, the city felt the best option was to use bonds to actually upgrade and enlarge capacity at the water plant.”

By 2000, expansion to host a nine million gallon plant was underway.

“Lincolnton is a predominately industrial water use industry,” said Peeler. “Sixty-five to 70% of our water is used for industries, and the remaining is used for residential and commercial.”

As the decade continued, however, the textile industry began moving offshore, causing a decline in the city’s water usage.

“That put the city in the difficult position to pay off the debt [from the plant], but having a much smaller customer base to do so,” said Emory.

Therefore, city officials have partnered with the Lincoln Economic Development Association to draw in new industries.

“We’ve been working with LEDA for a quite a while, looking for customers either to build new buildings or come into vacant existing buildings,” said Peeler. “We want to find customers that would have a need for significant amounts of water and waste water.”

Emory states that emphasis has also been put on helping current industries with growth.

“We try to help our current customers in any way we can to allow them to be able to grow and bring in more business,” said Emory.

While progress has been made, Peeler says there is still room for industrial growth.

“We haven’t been able to find that large water user,” said Peeler. “But LEDA has found people that have gone into the industrial park where we have been able to provide sewer services.”

Peeler also notes that Lincolnton is fortunate to still host a textile base.

“In talking with some of the industry leaders, they’re telling me now that customers are beginning to have problems with quality and on-time delivery with the offshore manufacturing textiles,” said Peeler. “And we are one of the few cities in this area that still has a textile base. Most everybody else has lost all their textile mills. And those we have that have survived have done so because they found their niche markets. So, that’s why we’ve still got the industry that we’ve got. They found a way to make it work for them.”

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